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'It's an Act of Love': Chicago Teacher Shares Experience Receiving COVID-19 Vaccine

Young woman takes photo with COVID-19 vaccine card.

Courtesy of Jeanne Paulino.

In many parts of the country, teachers are among the essential workers now allowed to make COVID-19 vaccine appointments. As of February 8 2021, at least 26 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have made some or all teachers eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Among them: Illinois.

Jeanne Paulino, an English language arts diverse learning specialist teacher in Chicago, is one of those teachers who's managed to secure an appointment to get vaccinated. She received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine on February 3 and is scheduled for her second dose on March 10.

Paulino spoke to Verywell about her experience receiving the vaccine, her mixed feelings about her turn in line, and why you should also get vaccinated for COVID-19—if you can—once your turn arrives. 

Verywell Health: How did you know you were eligible for the vaccine and how did you secure an appointment?

Jeanne Paulino: I work at a high school. I'm the special education, or diverse learning specialist, teacher for the eleventh grade English team. So I have a paraprofessional for my first period. She knew that I would like to get the vaccine as soon as possible so that I can be in-person and meet the students for the first time, since I did not teach them last year.

She texted me in the middle of the workday, ‘Hey, the vaccination appointment website was launched by Cook County, you should sign up.” It was announced the day before, or two days before, that Chicago had moved to Phase 1b— so Phase 1a was healthcare workers and 1b was other essential workers. I was able to get an appointment because she sent me the website within the hour it was launched. She was watching the news, and it was announced that the website was up and running. I told other teachers and sent them the link about 20 minutes after I got it because I needed to do my registration. And some of them couldn't find an appointment. It went super fast.

Verywell Health: Where did you receive the vaccine and what was the process like?

Jeanne Paulino: The Cook County website displayed a list of options. I just looked to see which was closest to me and which had availability for the time that worked. I didn't want to take time off of work to do it. So I opted for 3:15 p.m. And the only place that was somewhat near to where I live and was at that time was Austin Health Center. It's on the west side of Chicago. So it was about a 25-minute drive. 

I left my place at 2:30 p.m. and took an Uber because I don't drive and I didn't want to take public transportation. I got to the facility at about 3:05. There were a couple of folks who didn't have an appointment that were trying to get vaccinated. They were older, I would say in the 65-year-old or older group. They couldn't get vaccinated because they didn't have an appointment. 

One of the nurses saw me and asked if I had an appointment. I said yes and gave her the confirmation code. They asked if I was a healthcare worker. And I said, "No, I'm a teacher." They were pretty surprised because I don't look that old; I just graduated from college. They looked at me kind of weird, but then I made a joke about how I know I look 16. Another woman who had an appointment and was waiting to get the shot chimed in and said, "I'm really happy that the teachers are getting the vaccine soon. The kids really need you right now." That was a sweet moment. After getting processed and getting my second dose appointment confirmed, I was escorted to the room to get the vaccine. 

Verywell Health: Did you experience any side effects after receiving the first shot? 

Jeanne Paulino: I'm really bad with shots. So the nurse took out the needle, and I looked away as I normally do. I look away for two seconds, and I already felt her putting the bandaid on. I didn't feel the shot at all. I went into the room where you have to wait for 15 minutes afterward, just to make sure you don't have any allergic reactions. Nothing happened. I called my Uber, went back home, showered, and had grad school.

It was only after grad school that I felt my arm getting a little sore. I thought it was because I was working at a weird angle. But then by the time that I was going to bed at around 10 p.m. my arm felt significantly more sore. There was one point in the night where I woke up and it was really sore. I normally sleep on my left side where I got my shot. But I had to shift around to not be on my arm. So I was in a little bit of pain. But I was able to go on a run in the morning and do work. I did not take any Tylenol, but I made it through the day. 

Verywell Health: How comfortable did you feel with the process and the information you were provided with?

Jeanne Paulino: I think I'm a little biased because I'm Filipino, which means I have a lot of nurses in the family. It's a bit of a stereotype, but it's true for my family. All of my aunts and uncles that are nurses have already gotten vaccinated. And so as a result, I felt extremely comfortable getting the vaccine. 

There are clinical studies that were conducted and the vaccines were deemed safe and effective against COVID-19. So the scientific data, as well as the anecdotes from my aunts and uncles that are doing great work in intensive care units at hospitals and are not contracting COVID-19, made me feel comfortable getting it and quite excited. I cried tears of joy when I found out that I could get vaccinated. 

I just wish the process was more streamlined, because I know a lot of folks are struggling to get an appointment. They don't know which website to use, which code to use, leading to a lot of confusion and lost time when they could get an appointment more effectively if it was one streamlined process.

Verywell Health: What was it like for you, emotionally, to receive the vaccine after almost a year in a pandemic?

Jeanne Paulino: I feel like there is finally hope that this might come to an end. It's been very hard because I know a lot of loved ones and friends have contracted COVID-19. It’s really distressing to think that it's spreading in your own personal life.

In the beginning, I thought it was a distant problem that would never touch me. Because I am 22, I thought, even if I do get COVID, it's not going to be that bad. But then seeing people that I care about getting COVID made me feel really hopeless. But now that I have the vaccine, I feel like it's starting; vaccinations are going to continue to spread, and eventually I'll be able to hug my mother.

But I couldn't help but feel guilty that I was getting it instead of the older folks in the room that didn't have an appointment. I believe that the goal is herd immunity. I understand that we all eventually need to get vaccinated in order for that goal to be accomplished. At the same time though, the system that this vaccine is being rolled out with is so imperfect and flawed, that some healthcare professionals haven't gotten it, some older people haven't gotten it. But I, a 22-year-old teacher, who is otherwise pretty healthy, got it over them. So I've had mixed feelings. I'm very happy that I got vaccinated and I feel like I'm doing an act of service because we need to boost herd immunity and eventually I am going to go back in person to teach my students. But I also have to balance this weird guilt I have.

Verywell Health: How does this affect your teaching?

Jeanne Paulino: Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is planning on having teachers back in person. My school is technically part of CPS, but we are a charter so we don't have to abide by those guidelines. We have no plans to go back in person that I know of. So I think it'll impact my teaching if, for example, the students have to take the SAT. It's still a requirement to take the SAT in person in Chicago. If they need a proctor I would feel comfortable going into proctor the SAT over a staff member who doesn't have the vaccine yet. 

I wish that they had given priority to teachers that are already teaching in-person. They didn't even ask me: are you in person right now? I feel like that’s a huge factor that should have been taken into account because there are teachers that are in-person at schools that are having COVID-19 outbreaks.

Yes, this vaccine did not go to waste, by any means. I don't think any vaccine could go to waste if it's injected into a person. But this vaccine could have been used to better leverage a student's education by having a teacher that's in-person feel safe and protected from COVID.

Verywell Health: Any advice you’d like to share with those looking to get vaccinated?

Jeanne Paulino: Get the vaccine the moment you can. I cannot recommend it enough. It's scientifically proven to work. It's safe. Not only are you doing an act of self-protection, but it's an act of love to help curb this virus so that other people don't have to die and we can interact with each other again. If you have the opportunity and the means to get the vaccine, please do it. It is going to benefit everyone around you in the long run. 

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  1. EducationWeek. Where Teachers Are Eligible for the COVID-19 Vaccine. Updated February 12, 2021.

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